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Buying used: Searching for an SUV with a $13,500 budget

We compare the 2008 Mercedes-Benz ML 350 and the 2008 Acura MDX

2007-2009 Acura MDX.

Any thoughts on buying a used Mercedes-Benz M-Class SUV? I am considering $13,500 as the appropriate price point. – Richard, Ottawa

When it came out 20 years ago, the Mercedes M-Class was one of the first swanky SUVs. But it was quickly joined by even swankier, sportier rivals.

With a $13,500 budget, you'll likely have to look at the second generation – and probably not much later than 2008.

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Other SUVs to check out? The 2008 BMW X5 ($12,494 used, on average, according to Canadian Black Book), 2008 Volvo XC90 ($12,348), 2007 Audi Q7 ($12,753), 2008 Acura MDX ($12,900), 2008 Porsche Cayenne ($13,101) and 2008 Lexus RX 350 ($13,442).

Compared with the M-Class, the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 350 are "much more reliable used car buys," Phil Edmonston's Lemon-Aid says.

The Camry-based RX 350 is the only SUV on the list that's recommended by Consumer Reports. But it's less sporty than others here. We'll pit the five-seat M-Class against the seven-seat MDX.

2008 Mercedes-Benz ML 350 4Matic

2008 Mercedes-Benz ML 350 4Matic.

  • Second generation: 2006-2011 (facelift in 2009, became the GLE in 2015)
  • Average asking price for base: $13,247
  • Original MSRP: $58,300
  • Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
  • Transmission/drive: Seven-speed automatic/all-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 15.9 city, 12.0 highway; premium gas

The 2008 Mercedes ML 350 felt more at home on the streets of Toronto's tony Yorkville neighbourhood than off road in the Yukon – but that was kind of the point.

"The M feels like Mercedes is lip syncing an SUV," Globe Drive said in 2008. "It plays the part, but something just doesn't feel authentic – even though it is made in Alabama."

Joining the 268-horsepower ML 350 were the ML3 20 CDI (with a 215-hp, 3.0-litre, V-6 turbodiesel; $14,730 used), the ML 550 (with a 382-hp, 5.5-litre V-8; $16,772 used) and the ML 63 AMG (with a 503-hp, 6.2-litre V-8; $21,026 used).

Edmunds.com said it was comfortable for five, sure-footed in bad weather and had high-quality interior materials and construction.

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But it said the regular V-6 model was short on low-end torque, had no third-row seat, was expensive for the segment and had an "antiquated" electronics interface.

Consumer Reports liked the acceleration, ride, quietness, fit and finish, rear-seat comfort, cruising range, turning circle and crash-test results. But it said the transmission "would often shift abruptly or with a slight delay." It gave the 2008 M-Class three out of five for reliability and three out of five for owner satisfaction.

Complaints from owners included oil leaks, engine knock, power-steering hose leaks and troubles with power equipment, including the cruise control and keyless entry.

There were two recalls for the 2008 M-Class, including the potential failure of a pin in the power-steering rack.

2008 Acura MDX

2007-2009 Acura MDX.

  • Second generation: 2007-2013 (facelift in 2010)
  • Average asking price for base: $12,900 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Original MSRP: $52,900
  • Engine: 3.7-litre V-6
  • Transmission/drive: Five-speed automatic/all-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 15.4 city, 11.8 highway; premium gas

Acura's MDX was about as sporty as a seven-seat luxury SUV could be. And, new, it was a steal compared with German rivals.

"In its class you'll find other sport-oriented models such as the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Infiniti FX, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo XC90," Edmunds said. "In terms of performance, the MDX matches or bests the V-6-powered versions of those models, while often undercutting them by thousands of dollars even when equipped with a full list of optional features."

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Edmunds liked its "exemplary handling, powerful yet relatively fuel-efficient 300-hp V6 engine, high safety scores [and] stylish interior design." But it complained about the fiddly buttons on the centre stack and the "love-it-or-hate-it grille."

Built in Alliston, Ont., the MDX came well-equipped with goodies including a power moonroof, cruise control and heated front- and second-row outboard seats. A technology package added a navigation system, backup camera and power tailgate.

The elite package included auto-levelling headlights and a DVD entertainment system.

Consumer Reports praised the MDX's "refined powertrain, quick acceleration, responsive handling, and controlled ride." It griped about a 10-second wait for the Acura logo to disappear from the screen when using the backup camera.

It gives the 2008 Acura MDX four out of five for reliability and two out of five for owner satisfaction. Owner-reported trouble spots included the power-steering pump, transmission computer and CD player.

There were no recalls.

Send us your used-car questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com with the subject "buying used."


Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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